Surge in digital health care from doctor consultation to prescription


As COVID-19 shifts the way people connect with the health care system, patients, doctors and pharmacists could be seeing each other differently in the future.


When it comes to doctor consultations or getting medications, those interaction may happen more online than before the pandemic hit.

“Patients will actually be able to visit their doctors virtually,” Canada Health Infoway executive vice president Jamie Bruce said. “This is about shovel-ready rapid response.”

The federally funded Infoway is the backbone of much of Canadian electronic health care systems. It’s a part of a program started in 2001 with the goal of improving Canadians’ health of Canadians by accelerating the development, adoption and effective use of digital health tools.

And, it’s an initiative supported by Doctors of B.C. – formerly the B.C. Medical Association. President Dr. Kathleen Ross said the doctors’ organization is interested in any product that eases doctors’ workloads while making them more efficient.

A more recent part of Infoway is PrescribeIT’s Electronic Medical Records Virtual Care Investment Program, an electronic medication system linking patients, doctors and pharmacies.

The system has shown its value in the pandemic as people look for virtual care while under lockdown and maintaining social distancing.

Among conveniences the digital system offers are: Patients seeing their own doctor; physicians having access to complete medical records digitally; and a seamless patient experience from virtual consultation to electronic prescription.

Bruce said it ensures “physicians can’t lose a step and treat patients at home virtually while under these strict conditions.”

Moreover, he said, it allows physicians to reach more of their patient base.

He predicts wider use will result in reduced emergency room visits, better medication compliance and improved chronic medical condition management.

“People have stopped getting seen with regular consultations,” Bruce said. “We’re not forgetting that.”

“It opens up everyone’s eyes how crucial digital infrastructure is,” said executive vice president Jamie Bruce, saying usage volume has been up 20-25% since March. “You’ll probably see a lot of virtual solutions.”

The system allows patients to connect with their doctors who in turn can send prescriptions direct to pharmacies where medication can be picked up when prepared.

“Pharmacies don’t want people wandering around their pharmacies,” he said.

Ross adds some caveats, however, particularly around Prescribe IT.

“We need to have a look at how this rolls out,” she said, noting the system needs to integrate with others and should not duplicate similar efforts.

“The goal is to give the best care for the patient possible in the most streamlined and inexpensive way,” Ross said.

Bruce said privacy and security of patient health data is a key priority.

“Working with out partners, we have been implementing privacy solutions for the past decade,” he said. No data is stored on the system but remains in the custody of the designated data custodian.

Infoway is an independent, not-for-profit organization funded by Ottawa.